Author's Notes: This is meant to be nothing more than a Christmas special that I've been thinking about writing for the past three months. At first I thought I could turn it into an entire story that could stand on its own, but then I changed my mind. The idea of Kagome meeting Inuyasha's reincarnation and struggling to choose between the two is indeed an entertaining prospect since it turns the tables on our poor hanyou and puts him in Kagome's situation and her in his…but I feel like the outcome, for me, would be obvious, and as such I would write a very boring story with too much soap opera drama and not enough actual plot. But I still wanted to take the idea and put it into a story somehow, so I decided on the next best thing: my first ever one-shot.
It's rather long, which I'm sure you've figured out by now, but I feel like that can't be helped, and, in all honesty, I could have probably stretched it to a few chapters in length if I'd wanted…but I only wanted this to be a one-chapter experience, so I've kept it as short as possible.
This is filled with romance and fluff galore for my favorite couple, but I also feel that it's got the right amount of drama so it isn't just nauseating romance. It is a Christmas special, so I hope you all keep that in mind and get the right mood from it, and I also hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season. Merry Christmas, everyone! And may your families be blessed this season with very happy holidays! Blessings!
Title: Perfectly Flawed
Rating: PG-13 (Just in case anything can be misconstrued as sexual implication, and for a few choice words from Inuyasha's mouth.)
Disclaimer: I don't own Inuyasha.
A child's delighted laughter could be heard ringing throughout the otherwise quiet and hibernating world. It was peaceful. Snow blanketed the earth, transforming fields and plains into magical wonderlands of joy and turning mountains into gigantic glittering diamonds beneath the light of the moon and stars. All was quiet and peaceful, most animals safely tucked away in their caves and underground boroughs for the winter, families cuddling around slowly burning fires within their modest huts, wrapped in furs and blankets, sipping hot tea that could easily scald the lips of a child who wasn't careful.
Just outside one such hut where the windows were gleaming from the firelight stood a young woman wrapped in a warm blue fleece jacket and sweater, a red scarf around her neck and her hands clasped before her in matching red gloves, a red stocking cap completing the look. Warm black boots adorned her feet, and her elegant black pants hid the long john underwear providing an extra layer of warmth.
Kagome couldn't help but smile as she heard Shippou laugh again as he fell over and started rolling around in the newly fallen snow, wearing a thick orange jacket she had brought over from her time for him to wear in the cold weather. They had already built a snowman together, along with the help of Miroku and Sango, and she had easily won their extensive snowball fight of the day, but the little kitsune refused to come in despite the fact that the sun had long ago disappeared over the horizon and left the world in a magical, gleaming world of night.
She couldn't really blame him. She still loved playing in the snow at the age of eighteen, as much as she did when she was his age. Despite the fact that it was cold, she always found that snow had the ability to warm anyone's spirit. It meant snowball fights and laughter, it meant cuddling to get warm, and, more than anything, it usually meant that Christmas was just around the corner.
Kagome smiled as she thought about all the decorations adorning her house, from the holly to the scented candles, her mother's Santa Claus statue collection from America proudly on display for all to see above their fireplace. She'd spent an entire day stringing the exterior of the shrine with lights, so that now everything glittered, multicolored lights along the roofline, and flickering gold lights leading the way from the street up the massive stairs.
She loved Christmas, and all that it entailed, and hardly ever felt unhappy during the month of December.
And Kagome supposed that's why she was surprised to suddenly feel a stab of pain and longing at the thought of the one person she wished was at her side.
The moment it had started to snow, even Inuyasha hadn't been able to completely hide his look of childlike glee, running out with Shippou to allow the flakes to catch on his lashes and melt against his cheeks, acting as much like a child as someone of his age possibly could. But almost the moment they'd begun to make plans for the day, including Kagome going back to get her sled from her time, there had been a rush of tragic air, and familiar eel-like creatures had floated above their heads, headed towards the forest…towards Goshinboku.
The hanyou's joy had instantly faded to be replaced by the usual expression of confusion mixed with anticipation that came over his face. Only one woman caused such a look.
Kagome could still remember the way he'd looked at her, almost as though apologizing for what he was about to do, and she could also remember the way she'd simply huffed, frowned, and turned away, walking towards the well with Shippou on her shoulder whispering in her ear about how she was too good for Inuyasha anyway.
That had been hours ago. The sled now sat against Kaede's hut, having already provided hours of entertainment on one of the nearby hills (including Miroku landing sprawled in the snow when he was distracted by a young woman), the snowman was dutifully clothed in its hat, scarf, and stick arms, the snowball fight had been decided, and now all were inside warming themselves except for Kagome, dutifully and lovingly watching over Shippou as he had his last few moments of fun, not wanting to waste a single moment in case the snow would disappear the next day.
Kagome doubted that would happen, since the temperatures showed no signs of rising, but she humored her surrogate son nonetheless. It gave her the excuse she needed to wait outside…
…to wait for him.
Sighing, Kagome fidgeted, scraping her boots in the snow in a random circular pattern, allowing her hands to fall and her arms to swing at her sides.
Was she a fool? Was she waiting for something that would never happen? Sango, Miroku, Shippou, and even Kaede all insisted Inuyasha loved her. They all insisted she just needed to be patient and give him time to fully come to grips with Kikyou and their failed love.
Most days that was enough for Kagome, since she certainly loved him enough to think it worth the wait if the outcome was as she dreamed. But some days, like that day, she felt like she was a fool; a lovesick fool waiting for something that would never come. For all she knew, this time Inuyasha wouldn't come back. This time maybe at last he and Kikyou had just decided to leave the world together and travel to the next, where they could spend eternity together while Kagome would be left alone to spend the rest of her life without her beloved hanyou.
It was her fear each time he left her. Each time those soul-stealers appeared Kagome wondered if that would be the day he would not return. And her nerves couldn't take much more. She could feel them wearing thin, ready to snap at a moment's notice.
"Inuyasha…where are you?" She whispered, watching as her breath swirled around her in a puff of hot air. "Are you okay? Are you safe?" Will you come back to me, her mind finished silently?
Please be safe…please don't leave me alone…
"Kagome!" She looked up and saw Shippou smiling at her. "Come play with me!"
She laughed at that. "Oh Shippou, it's so late."
"Please? Just for a little longer?"
His adorable face always made saying no impossible. Besides she could use the distraction. "Alright. What do you want to play?"
"I don't know. Could you show me how to make that snow thing again?"
She blinked. "The snow angel?"
"Yeah. That was fun."
"Alright." Kagome walked over next to him and lay down in the snow. "Just spread your arms out like this, and your legs like this, and move your arms up and down and open and close your legs…like this." She demonstrated, feeling the snow move around her to create what she knew would be a perfect snow angel.
"Like this?" Shippou attempted to flail his arms around, and Kagome giggled.
"Yeah, something like that."
"You're laughing at me." The kitsune pouted.
She sobered her face instantly, though her eyes twinkled. "No I'm not!" She reached over and grabbed his little body, pulling it against her tenderly. "You're just so adorable!" She grabbed a handful of snow and suddenly dumped it on his head, causing him to start with surprise.
"Hey! That wasn't fair!" He grabbed a small handful of snow and threw it back at her, some of it going down her neck and causing her to shiver. But she just laughed as she threw some more back at him, and before long another, smaller snowball fight had ensued.
Their laughter traveled throughout the village and the nearby forest, and as a young man walked back towards Kaede's hut his dog ears flicked in response, a soft smile unknowingly coming to his face as he separated one particularly beautiful laugh from the other.
As Inuyasha appeared in the clearing by the small hut, where he could see that Sango, Miroku, and Kaede were already inside, he immediately spotted Kagome and Shippou rolling around in the snow nearby, laughing and playfully throwing haphazard snowballs at one another.
Kagome looked so beautiful, he thought, with her red cheeks and slightly damp hair, which was pulled back into a ponytail at the nape of her neck under her red hat.
As though sensing him, at that moment she looked up and her eyes went wide before he visibly saw her body sag in relief. He frowned. Had she been worried about him?
"Inuyasha!" Shippou hollered in greeting, and from inside the hut his two other friends appeared at the sound of his name, so that now all four of his companions were staring at him expectantly, clearly wanting an explanation for having been gone so long.
Without even thinking, he went over and offered Kagome his hand to help her to her feet, but she refused the offer, standing up on her own. He felt like he'd been stung, only relaxing slightly when he heard her mumble under her breath, "I'm glad you're alright."
"You were certainly gone for a long time." It was Sango who spoke, and when Inuyasha glanced over at her the demon exterminator was giving him one of her protective sisterly looks, though he knew in this instance her concern was for Kagome. "What did Kikyou have to say this time?"
Kagome was strangely quiet, and he didn't like it, but Inuyasha tried to answer anyway. "She had news about Naraku. She thinks she knows where he is, and believes she's found a way to defeat him. I'm sorry I was gone so long, but we had a lot to talk about."
"And is that all you did?" Everyone looked over at Kagome, who immediately frowned and looked down, her eyes neutral. "Talk?"
At first Inuyasha didn't understand her implication, but when he did he frowned as well. "Yes, what else would we do?"
Her eyes flared at that statement. "You know exactly what I mean."
The others looked at the pair before them and seemed to understand this was a private moment, all three retreating into Kaede's hut…where they could still hear everything through the windows without being seen.
"Nothing happened, Kagome. Why can't you believe that?"
She shot him a look, but then her eyes seemed to suddenly go dull with pain. "You were just gone a long time. I was…worried."
He hadn't been expecting that, and Inuyasha immediately softened, though his voice was still gruff when he spoke. "I'm fine, Kagome. Nothing's wrong."
She just looked away, but he still heard the words she said next. "Not this time, anyway."
"What did you say, woman?" He leapt over to stand in front of her, blocking her way back into the hut.
Her eyes flared at the way he referred to her, and for a moment Kagome forgot to be melancholy as her temper instinctively kicked in. "I said this time you weren't hurt…this time you came back…but what about next time?"
Now Inuyasha just looked confused. "What about next time?"
Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes. "Do you have any idea what it's like to wait for you every time you go off to her, Inuyasha? Do you know how hard it is for me to watch you go and wonder if you'll ever come back? Every time you leave, I wonder if you'll just decide to go to Hell with her and be done with all of this."
"Kagome…" She really felt that way? "Of course I'll come back, Kagome. I swore to defeate Naraku, and I would never leave so long as that task still remained. Besides, we still have to complete the jewel."
Kagome flinched and felt something cold and hard coil in the pit of her stomach. "Of course. Naraku. The jewel. How could I have been so stupid as to think you would leave without taking care of those things first?" Do I mean nothing to you? Her insides screamed as she turned back towards the hut, but Inuyasha couldn't see it…couldn't understand.
He watched her start to walk away, confused as hell and hating the feeling, and without thinking he grabbed her arm and pulled her back to face him. "Kagome…" Her name was strained past his lips. "I said nothing happened between us. What more do you want from me?"
This time the tears really did start to fall, leaving ice-cold trails of water on her cheeks. "Inuyasha, if you can't figure that out on your own, then there is no point in me giving you the answer."
She was suddenly exhausted. So tired of fighting with Naraku, with Inuyasha…and more than anything, she was tired of constantly fighting with herself about her feelings towards both the hanyou and his tragically undead lover, who she couldn't hate and could never accept all at the same time.
Without thinking, Kagome walked over and took the leather straps attached to the sled in her hands and felt it begin to glide over the snow as she changed her direction from the hut and instead started walking toward the old well in the center of the forest.
Inuyasha saw this and frowned, hurrying after her. "Where are you going?"
"Come on, Kagome…don't do this. Why are you being so stupid about this?"
She whirled on him, catching him off guard. "Don't you ever say I'm stupid about this, Inuyasha! I put up with more of your crap than I probably ever should! All my friends say I've given you way too many chances, and right now I'm feeling inclined to agree with them." Without another word she turned around and started walking again.
He furrowed his brow in confusion. What did she mean by that? What chances did she keep giving him? And, more importantly, what was he constantly failing to do? He certainly didn't like failing.
"Kagome, please just tell me what's bothering you."
"I already told you, Inuyasha."
"What, that you were worried about me? Well for someone who's worried you're not acting very happy to see me!" Without meaning to he had just tried to lighten the mood, and was stung when it obviously didn't work, because Kagome didn't stop walking. If anything, she set her shoulders with even more purpose.
She had been glad to see him. Overjoyed, in fact. A part of her had begun to fear the worst, because he'd never left them alone for so long without saying so, and usually those had been for visits to Toutosai to fix his sword. When she'd seen him appear out of the forest, with his silver hair glinting off the snow and the moon so that it was like he wore pearls in his very hair, his amber eyes reflecting the silver of the world, she'd wanted to cry in relief, and nearly had.
But then she'd remembered the reason for having been so worried. She remembered Kikyou, and suddenly, once she knew he hadn't died or left her, she felt her treacherous mind begin to ponder what other reasons could have kept him away, and naturally she had come to only one conclusion…and one she didn't particularly like, either.
Her ultimate nightmare.
A memory came, unbidden, to her mind, of a time when Kikyou had kissed him, and he hadn't pushed her away. That had been a long time ago, true…almost three years…but Kagome still felt it burn into her heart, painfully searing a scar over her trust of Inuyasha.
She was trying. She really was. She'd meant it when she said she would always stay at his side as long as he allowed her to, but sometimes she just…couldn't stand it. And that night was one of those moments.
"Kagome! Answer me, damn it!"
She blinked, obviously having been lost in thought, but didn't stop walking. "I just need to be alone for a while, Inuyasha."
"Why?" He demanded.
Because you're breaking my heart and you don't even know it! She thought. "I've just got a lot on my mind. Besides, I need to help my family get ready for Christmas since it's in two weeks."
"But you just came back two days ago!" Inuyasha kept pace with her easily, gesturing wildly with his arms. The well came into view, and he seemed to grow desperate. "Besides, we were going to play with your sled and build one of those men you talked about out of snow!"
Kagome reached the well and hoisted the sled onto the edge. "We did all those things already today, Inuyasha," her tone was somewhat cold. "You were just busy with someone else."
He growled. "I told you about that, Kagome! Kikyou has discovered new things about Naraku and his weaknesses! We could be very close to defeating him! And Naraku…"
"God, just shut up!" She suddenly cried, clapping her hands over her ears. He instantly went silent, watching in shock as her body trembled from withheld tears. "All I ever hear about is Naraku, Kikyou, and the jewel! Nothing else! Your life is driven by a need for revenge, Inuyasha, and while I can certainly understand, sometimes I just need a break from it all! Don't you think Miroku and Sango have just as much of a desire to see Naraku dead as you do? And yet they still had fun today in spite of it all! I…" Her eyes were full of pain and love as she looked at him, and he felt floored. "I wanted to spend this day with you, Inuyasha…just as you are…with no worries about Naraku or the jewel or…" She trailed off, but he knew what she was going to say.
"Kagome, I…" He'd wanted to spend the day with her too. He had wanted to be the one rolling around and dumping snow on her head, not Shippou. But he couldn't find the courage to say so. "I'm sorry I left. But I swear the only reason I did leave was because Kikyou is vital to defeating Naraku. She's our best chance right now of finding his weaknesses."
Kagome felt the cold in her stomach spread to her heart, and she sighed in defeat. "If she's so important, than just keep her with you all the time, and I'll stay in my time. Maybe you'll accomplish your mission faster without me constantly slowing you down with my silly ideas of fun." She frowned. "I'm pretty sure Kikyou wouldn't want to play in the snow."
"Kagome…" He didn't know what to say, and his silence was his undoing.
Frowning, she turned away. "I'm going to spend Christmas with my family, Inuyasha. I don't know when I'll be back."
She started to flip her legs to the other side of the well, but his voice stopped her short…just like it always did. God, when had she become so hopeless and so spineless?
"You will come back though, won't you Kagome?"
Her lips curved up into a sad smile as she heard the fear and uncertainty in his voice. "I'll come back, Inuyasha. I won't force you to wait and wonder, like you do to me every time you leave my sight." And then she was gone, and Inuyasha was left staring at the spot where she had been a moment before.
"So you broke up with that two-timer, Kagome?" Yuka asked eagerly, visions of Hojo dancing around in her mind.
Kagome sighed in annoyance. "No, Yuka, I said we're just taking a break."
"Yeah, and that usually means you're breaking up, Kagome," Eri teased. Kagome remained uncharacteristically silent.
It had been four days since she'd come home, and as far as she knew Inuyasha hadn't come once to see her. Had she been too harsh? Would he never treat her the same way again? She shook her head. No. She had spoken from the heart, and now he could take what she said and choke on it for all she cared. She was just so tired of spelling it all out for him and still allowing him margin for error.
"Well I think it's perfectly normal for couples to have some time apart," Ayumi offered in her soft, sweet voice.
"Yeah, except that Kagome's boyfriend might take his time to be with his ex-girlfriend."
Kagome's eye twitched and she took a sip of her water to calm her nerves "If this is your idea of cheering me up, Yuka, it isn't working." Her friend blushed and went silent, and thankfully the rest of their meal was spent in silence.
After leaving the restaurant, Kagome headed for the mall, needing to do some serious Christmas shopping, not just for her family in the present, but also for her friends in the past. So she found herself trekking through the slushy streets of Tokyo, her school shoes getting wet and numbing her toes, and she groaned, wishing she'd worn thicker socks like her mother had suggested.
The mall was crowded, as was to be expected with a little less than two weeks before Christmas, but Kagome didn't mind, allowing herself to be jostled from one place to the next as she tried to decide what to get everyone. In the end, she bought Shippou pants, gloves, and a hat to match his new coat, a pearl pendant for Sango (since her friend didn't have very many nice things) along with a white jacket, a book about proper etiquette around women for Miroku along with his own purple jacket, and finally, sentimentally, a new heart pendant to replace the one she'd given to Inuyasha a year ago, since that one had fallen off of his neck and disintegrated in a puddle of miasma during a heated battle with Naraku. She didn't even know if he'd wear it, but since he'd worn the other one (though he didn't think she'd ever noticed) she figured it was worth a try.
She liked thinking of him wearing something that marked him as hers, even if in truth his heart still belonged to someone else.
Finally, after emptying her bank account and using up her entire afternoon, Kagome headed for the doors juggling several boxes in a stack in her arms. Groaning, she prepared herself for the harsh wind outside, knowing it was going to be a very long walk home.
A woman ahead of her walked through the glass doors to the outside, and Kagome didn't pause when it looked like she would hold the door open for her as well. "Thanks…hey!" Clearly she was wrong.
The woman didn't even bother to hold the door, and Kagome felt herself slam into the glass and go flying backwards, all her carefully placed boxes tipping dangerously to the side. Struggling valiantly, in the end Kagome felt gravity win the battle, and prepared herself for the embarrassment of having everything, including herself, hit the floor.
But at the last instant she felt hands on her back, connected to a pair of strong arms, and she fell against a solid chest, wincing slightly as her boxes weren't so lucky and clattered to the floor. For a moment she was silent, trying to decide if she would be too embarrassed to turn around and see who her rescuer was. She settled for just speaking first. "Thank you."
"No problem." The owner of the voice was deep, confirming that it was a man who saved her, but he sounded young, his voice still higher than a full-grown man.
Curious, she eventually pulled away enough to turn around, the stranger's arms falling to her waist out of convenience as she did so, but she didn't even notice, because the moment she saw his face, she gasped. "Inuyasha!"
It couldn't be! But it certainly could have been!
Before her was a man who looked almost exactly like her hanyou on the night of the new moon, with jet black hair and stunningly violet eyes that held the potential to be windows into his heart and soul. His face was just as painfully handsome and chiseled, but his hair wasn't nearly as long, and he was definitely human, which told Kagome it couldn't be Inuyasha, since he was only human at night, and there was definitely a full moon rising into the sky that evening.
Still, she couldn't help but wonder how…
"Excuse me?" He interrupted her thoughts, and Kagome blushed, imagining how she must seem.
"I'm sorry. You just look like someone I know."
The young man chuckled, the sound somewhat foreign, and Kagome couldn't help but stare, wondering if that's what Inuyasha would sound like if he laughed more. There were no worry lines on this man's face either, telling her he'd clearly known a much easier life.
"It's alright. Come to think of it, you look kind of familiar too. Maybe we met in another life, eh?" He winked, and Kagome blushed with a smile, knowing for sure it wasn't Inuyasha since her hanyou was such an idiot with words he was usually tripping all over himself, especially when it came to her. But then the second part of what he'd said hit her, and she felt stunned.
Was it possible? Could this man be Inuyasha's…
"Are you okay, or did I say something again?" He waved a hand in front of her face, and Kagome blinked.
"What? Oh, it's nothing. Um…you really saved me from being totally embarrassed a few minutes ago. I can't thank you enough."
He held up a hand to stop her. "You already said thanks once, and besides, I couldn't just let you fall. That would have been unforgivable."
Kagome laughed. "Well I hope you're not always so hard on yourself."
He shrugged. "So what's your name?"
She extended her hand, feeling more confident now that her embarrassment was wearing off. "Kagome. What's yours?"
"Kisho?" She grinned ruefully. Maybe he was more like Inuyasha then she thought if his name meant one who speaks his mind. That was certainly Inuyasha.
"Yeah…is something wrong with my name?"
"No! Not at all."
He gave her a puzzled look, but smiled again, and Kagome again found herself wondering if perhaps Inuyasha would look so carefree if he smiled more. "Look, can I give you a hand getting all these boxes back home?"
That took Kagome by surprise. "Oh! No…I couldn't ask you to do that."
He laughed again. "Why not?"
"Because I'm walking a long ways, and I'm sure you have other things to do."
Kisho shrugged. "Later, maybe, but not right now, or else I wouldn't have offered."
"But…" Kagome looked away. "You're the one who helped me, and I should be doing something for you, not the other way around." She didn't like feeling as though she was beholden to anyone.
"We'll worry about that later," He assured her. "Where do you live?"
"The Higurashi Shrine."
A look of understanding crossed his face. "Now I know where I've seen you before; my family visited that shrine a few months ago, and you were there chasing your brother around the yard. As I recall you wanted your condom back." He winked.
"Oh!" Kagome turned as red as a cherry. She remembered that day very well, though she didn't remember Kisho. She just recalled yelling out at Souta, only to find they had visitors to the shrine that day. "I'll, um…I'll have you know that was just a joke by my friends. They put it in my backpack, I found it, but so did my brother, and he was threatening to…well…" He had been threatening to give it to Inuyasha.
Kisho just laughed. "It's alright. I get it."
"Oh? You have a little brother?"
"No, I'm an only child, but I have several little cousins who love to make fun of me when they come over. They're actually at my house right now for the holidays."
Kagome laughed. "I see." But then she froze as he started picking up her boxes. "What are you doing?"
He looked at her as though it were obvious. "I'm walking you home."
"But I didn't ask you to…"
"I know. I'm offering."
After a few more protests, Kagome finally relented, wondering how she'd lucked into finding such a nice guy, and also pondering the whole way home the possibility of having found, at last, Inuyasha's reincarnation in her time. After all, if Kikyou had one, no doubt her hanyou had to have one too, except only his human side seemed to have survived.
Finally, after a twenty-minute walk through the frozen snow, Kagome found herself home again, and she couldn't wait to get inside and wrap all her presents for her friends. She hoped they'd like their gifts. Kisho insisted on helping her up the stairs, and when they finally reached her door she turned and gave him one of her brightest smiles as a way of saying thanks. "I really appreciate this, Kisho. If there's anything I can do for you in the future, just let me know. After all, you know where I live."
He nodded and smiled. "Sure, but it really wasn't a problem. I got to know you, which I think is worth it." Kagome blushed and he winked again before turning and walking away. Then he stopped and turned back around. "You know, there is something you can do for me."
She had just put her hand on the doorknob, but stopped to look at him. "Sure. What is it?"
"Have dinner with me."
"What?" Kagome hadn't been expecting that.
"Yeah…is that such an awful idea to you?"
"What? No! Of course not!" Kagome honestly had to admit she did enjoy his company, but a part of her still felt strange about going out on anything that could be construed as a date with anyone other than Inuyasha. That was why she always refused Hojo, though he still didn't seem to get the message.
"Then you'll meet me tomorrow night for dinner at five?"
"I…" Would she? What about Inuyasha? Then she shook her head. It was just a way of saying thanks. "Sure. Where?"
"That new Italian restaurant okay with you?"
She smiled again. "That sounds great. I'll meet you there." She waved goodbye and waited until he'd disappeared before opening the door and walking inside, dragging all her boxes with her. "Mama, you have no idea what I think just happened today!"
She'd been gone almost an entire week, and no word. Inuyasha had been sitting beside the well almost every day waiting for her to come back, wondering if she'd be angry if he went to get her. She'd seemed so upset before, and he didn't know if she was any better. All he knew was that, yet again, he was the reason for her distress. He was always the reason for her distress.
His ears drooped. "Kagome, where are you? Why aren't you coming back?" He lowered his head and closed his eyes. "Why aren't you coming back to me? You always come back to me."
Kneeling on the grass, the hanyou rested his elbows on the rim, placing his chin in his hands, inhaling deeply the scent of pine, dirt, and, more importantly, the scent of his Kagome. That was the main reason he hardly ever left the well when she was gone: it carried her scent. Sure, he could smell her in other places, like Kaede's hut, and her scent was all over Shippou…but it was different with the well. The well brought him peace while also giving him a piece of her to cling to until she returned.
If she returned.
Inuyasha shook his head. "She said she'd come back, damn it," he snapped at himself, hating the way his heart so easily lost faith in the one woman who had never done anything but trust him, and teach him that she in turn could be trusted.
But it had been so long. So much longer than he had thought she would be gone without sending some kind of word.
It occurred to him in the back of his mind that this was how Kagome had felt that day when he'd been gone with Kikyou, and suddenly Inuyasha felt horrifically guilty. It was a lot easier to be gone when you weren't the one waiting for the one you cared about to return.
Kagome…the woman that he…
"Keh, well I know where she is," he finally announced to the forest, unaware of the three pairs of eyes watching him from the trees as he stood up and looked down at the well. And I'm not going to let you leave me, he added silently as he took a graceful leap and went soaring through time, 500 years into the future, feeling the pure aura of the well surround him before his feet touched solid ground once more and he could tell by the smell that he was in Kagome's time.
Leaping out of the well, he realized the sky was a little clearer in Kagome's time, making the darkening sky of evening more obvious since it wasn't masked by clouds, and he shook his head momentarily, surprised by how long he'd been sitting beside the well at all.
Kagome would never let him live it down if she found out he'd been moping because of her. He did hope his friends wouldn't tell her…or better yet, that his friends hadn't been spying on him again (though that was as unlikely as it was that he would suddenly declare he had become friends with Naraku).
The lights were on inside the Higurashi home, and Inuyasha could hear Kagome's mother calling something out to Souta as she prepared dinner for her family. He smiled. He always enjoyed the feeling of peace with Kagome's family. Everything was always so warm and kind, and everything he had never had and always wanted as a child. He felt like, in some way, Kagome was offering him a second chance to have a family.
Christmas lights adorned the house and caused the yard surrounding him to glitter with gold, the slowly melting snow now brown from constantly being walked upon, but still looking beautiful as the sun started to disappear. And as Inuyasha stepped into the house through Kagome's window, he immediately smelled cinnamon and peppermint candles, which were lit throughout the house. He saw the stairs were adorned with holly and golden lights, and as he rounded the corner he saw the kitchen ceiling was lined with gold icicle lights, and the living room proudly displayed holly, small Santa Claus figurines, stockings over the fireplace, and all the pictures had been wrapped to look like giant packages.
He was certainly beginning to understand why Kagome always talked about Christmas so much. If possible, it made the atmosphere within her home even warmer.
Ignoring the old man and young boy in the living room watching television, Inuyasha instead walked into the kitchen, assuming Kagome would be there since she hadn't been in her room, but was dismayed to see that it was only Mrs. Higurashi. Her eyes brightened when she saw him, and her voice stopped him short of turning around and leaving.
He tried to smile, but ended up just looking awkward. "Hi there. Is, um…" He rubbed the back of his neck. "Is Kagome here?"
"Kagome?" Mrs. Higurashi looked around as though expecting to see her daughter come walking through the doorway at any moment, but then she ended up shaking her head. "No…she's out to dinner with a friend. But she should be back shortly."
"Out to dinner?" Inuyasha felt his mouth go dry. "Is her friend, um, a guy or a girl?"
"What?" The older woman smiled and her eyes twinkled as she motioned for Inuyasha to sit at the table, bringing him a plate of gingerbread cookies, which he accepted without even a nod, simply biting off one of the heads and hearing it crunch with satisfaction. "Oh, he's a young man. In fact, there's an interesting story behind that…"
But Inuyasha barely heard theh second part. Kagome was out to dinner with a young man? Hadn't she called that something like a date? Wasn't a date reserved for the person that you…he swallowed.
"Where did they go?" He demanded, immediately shooting up straight out of the chair, knocking it over.
Mrs. Higurashi didn't even seem fazed, having dealt with Inuyasha long enough to understand his rash behavior. "A little Italian restaurant that just opened a few months ago. But I should tell you something about this boy, Inuyasha, before you go storming off to bring my daughter back like a sack of grain."
That gave him pause, and the hanyou blushed, realizing that's exactly what he had planned on doing…along with slicing open the belly of the man who dared take his Kagome on a date. "What is it?"
Mrs. Higurashi daintily nibbled on the arm of one of her gingerbread men as she replied. "Kagome ran into him the other day at the mall; apparently he helped her home and everything after nearly falling trying to carry all of her things home. And to make a long story short, she thinks he's your reincarnation. Isn't that fascinating? And lucky that she should run into him?"
Inuyasha felt his blood run cold. His…reincarnation? Kagome was out to dinner with a man that looked like him, probably sounded like him, and maybe even acted like him, without all the issues that he carried in his heart?
Suddenly he wished he'd never come back. He would have been much happier not knowing. Now he couldn't go home without seeing what was going on between them for himself.
"Do you know how I can find this restaurant they're at?"
"Why of course! It's in downtown Tokyo, and just opened, so there are bound to be signs." She finished giving him directions, and without a word Inuyasha silently grabbed the baseball cap he always wore and ran off into the night, praying Kagome would be intelligent enough to see the difference between a reincarnation and him.
But what if she wasn't? What if she couldn't see a difference? Why wouldn't she want to stay with someone in her time? Someone human, with what sounded like manners (if he had helped her walk home), no inner turmoil, and…most importantly…no Kikyou? He winced at the thought, and felt the first cold stab of jealousy take root in his heart. Sure he'd felt jealous before, but never like this. With Kouga he somehow knew, deep down, that Kagome didn't love the wolf…but this? How could he compete with a copy of himself? A better copy? A copy without all of his flaws?
"Kagome…please don't leave me…"
He sped along the rooftops until he spotted the red banner above the restaurant Mrs. Higurashi had described, and felt his stomach clench as he leapt to the ground in an ally so as not to draw too much attention to himself. Suddenly he understood how insecure Kagome had always felt, and did feel, around Kikyou. These feelings were so sudden, and yet suddenly…he understood far more than he had wanted to…
Kagome felt another laugh break through her lips and shake her body as she tried to take a sip of her water, hoping to calm the fit before it got too out of hand like before. But she was failing miserably, and it didn't help matters any that the handsome man sitting across from her was laughing just as hard as he told her about a time when his little cousins had left him outside in the snow without his pants on and he'd been forced to walk around his entire house and climb up to one of the open windows on the second floor to get back in.
"That's terrible!" Kagome exclaimed, still giggling.
"Yeah, but I still love them. It's hard not to when they look at me with their smiling faces and ask if I forgive them. How could I not, you know?"
Kagome nodded her assent, thinking in her mind about how Inuyasha would have never forgiven Shippou if he'd done such a thing. Frankly, he was hardly ever nice to the kitsune, always whacking him across the head and tossing him away when he became annoying. But then…her eyes softened as she recalled all the subtle ways the hanyou showed that he cared, from how he'd teach Shippou to hunt and fend for himself to praising his fighting skills as though he were fierce when in fact he was no more intimidating than a furry teddy bear.
She missed him terribly, and being with Kisho, even if he truly was Inuyasha's reincarnation, was no help. They may look similar, but Kisho was not her hanyou by any stretch of the imagination any more than she was Kikyou. She wondered why Inuyasha had such a time seeing the difference?
"So do you like your food?" He asked after she was silent for a few moments, and Kagome started, looking over to see him admiring her face in the candlelight of the table.
She blushed and nodded, forking some more pasta into her mouth as she did so. "Very much. This is a great restaurant. Thanks so much for taking me, even though you are going to let me pay for dinner."
He shook his head. "No way, I invited you out."
"And you also saved me from embarrassment and walked me home," she retorted. "Are you just trying to make me beholden to you for the rest of my life?"
He looked over at her with a barely-contained gaze of seduction, and in spite of herself Kagome felt her body shiver. She wished Inuyasha would look at her like that…as though she were fascinating and appealing just as she was. "Is that a possibility?"
With nothing better to do Kagome just giggled and looked away. "Well, at the rate you're going…" But she trailed off into silence and her eyes went wide as she turned and found herself staring into a pair of amber eyes peering at her through the glass. She gasped. "Sit!"
He disappeared with a muffled thud, but Kisho was now giving her a strange look. "What did you just say?"
"Um, just that," Kagome fumbled for her words as she hastily rose to her feet, "I've been sitting too long. I need to go to the bathroom. Will you excuse me?"
He chuckled at her antics, which he personally found rather adorable. He'd never met anyone like her before. "Sure."
Kagome hastily stepped out onto the street, feeling herself shiver in her short skirt and sweater, having forgotten to grab her long jacket from inside. But she didn't care. She was more interested in the red figure still planted face-first in the slush outside one of the restaurant windows. "Inuyasha!" She exclaimed in a hiss, and he immediately leapt to his feet, coming over to her.
His eyes tugged on her heart as she saw the hurt and the pain, and she immediately had to resist the urge to throw her arms around him and plant kisses on his forehead to make him feel better. She was still mad at him, after all…wasn't she?
"What the hell are you doing, Kagome?" He snapped at her. "Your mother said that man in there is my reincarnation! Is that true?"
Kagome blinked stupidly at first, caught off guard by his short temper, before she finally recovered. "I don't know if he's your reincarnation, Inuyasha…it's not like I can go back to the past and have someone feel his aura for me and tell me if it's the same."
"But you think he is?" There was a desperate note to his voice, containing all the anxiety he'd felt as he'd seen Kagome…his Kagome…laugh at something that jerk had said while he looked at her as though he would possess her, claim her as his own (he growled possessively at the thought). She was only supposed to laugh like that for him, and no one was allowed to look at her like that except for him!
(Not that he'd want to…right?)
"I honestly don't know," Kagome replied, her voice warm and confused, and he noticed the way she was shivering and immediately removed his jacket and without thinking placed it around her shoulders. Kagome felt instantly warm, not just on the outside, but in her heart as well. He was always so thoughtful without even meaning to be. "I know he looks a lot like you, and sounds like you, but that doesn't mean anything. There are people in this world today that probably look a lot like me too, as much as I look like Kikyou…so who can know for sure?"
"But you think he is," the hanyou reiterated, "Or else you wouldn't have gone to dinner with him right?"
"I…" Kagome suddenly understood where this was going, and frowned, some of her warm feelings disappearing. "That's not at all why I said I'd go to dinner with him. He helped me yesterday, Inuyasha, and I owed him something as a way of saying thanks. When he asked me if I'd go to dinner with him, he seemed nice enough so I said yes."
"How did he help you?" And why do I suddenly care so much? His insides screamed.
"Um…" She looked down at her hands. "I was walking out of the mall, and a door was unexpectedly shut in my face. I ran into it and would have fallen down if he hadn't come and helped me out."
Inuyasha frowned. "I'm sorry."
He looked up and met her eyes. "I'm sorry I wasn't there to help you. I should have been."
"Inuyasha…" Kagome felt slightly relieved, and the warmth returned. "You can't be with me every second of my life."
"But I promised to protect you."
"And you always do; this time I wasn't in any danger other than being embarrassed."
The hanyou grunted and looked away, down the street, where the yellow lamps where adorned with holly and casting an iridescent glow about the city. "Does he…um…act like me?"
Kagome didn't hesitate, always honest. "No; he's very different."
"How is he different?"
"Well, he's…I suppose he's a little more polite and he laughs a lot more, but then again I can understand since he grew up in a normal house with a normal childhood, unlike you."
"Normal…" Inuyasha looked down at the ground. "So he's human then, too? Not a half-breed like me?"
Kagome frowned. "Inuyasha, what are you saying?"
"Do you like him better than me?" He blurted out. "Is he better for you than me? Do you want to stay with him?"
It was so unexpected that Kagome, without thinking, burst out laughing. "Inuyasha, I met him yesterday. I don't know a thing about him, other than the fact that he has little cousins who like to pull pranks when they're around. How could I know how I feel about him in just a day?"
"But you want to find out?"
"I don't know. He seems like a nice guy, but…"
"So you want to get to know him better?" Inuyasha pushed, interrupting her, and then Kagome started to feel her temper flare.
"Will you let me finish? Nothing is happening between the two of us! I do have the sense to see that he is very different than you are! Will you believe me?" It occurred to her that Inuyasha had said the exact same thing to her before she'd left in a huff, but Kagome pushed that reality aside to deal with later. She crossed her arms. "And besides, I thought you didn't need me anyway…you have Kikyou to defeat Naraku for you."
"Kagome…" His voice was strained. Why had he come anyway? Why did he care so much about whom she ate dinner with? "You know I need you to help me find the jewel shards…"
Oops. That came out all wrong.
Kagome stiffened and immediately removed his jacket from around her shoulders, shoving it back into his arms. "Well you don't have to worry about that, Inuyasha. No matter what happens to me here, I will come back and finish my duty collecting the shards since I am well aware of the fact that it is my fault the jewel was broken in the first place."
Something broke in his heart at her tone; at the way she roughly returned his jacket to him. He felt like she was rejecting him. He couldn't bear it. He couldn't bear the thought of her not caring about him, not loving him like she always had…her bright smile greeting him every morning, her eyes beaming for him in a way they did for no one else. He'd never say so, but he felt his heart flip over every time he saw her look at him that way; as though he were a god on earth…as though he truly were perfect just as he was, and he didn't need to be anything but himself.
He knew she loved him. He could recall the way she'd said so and brought him back from the edge several times, including that one fateful time when she'd kissed him. His lips still burned in memory.
Inuyasha realized then as she turned away from him how much she'd come to mean to him, and how much he'd come to rely on her love for him, which was always so true and unchanging and constant no matter what else was going on. He needed her so desperately; she had become the very air he breathed, her joy his own, her pain burying deep into his soul.
"Kagome, wait!" He desperately reached for her arm and turned her back around. For once she looked slightly surprised, and he could tell she was listening intently to what he had to say. "I…" I love you…
But he couldn't say it.
The silence stretched on into eternity, seconds becoming minutes, and minutes becoming something uncomfortable, creating a barrier between them that had never existed before. Finally, as though the fight had left her, Kagome slumped forward, her eyes losing their life as she sighed and looked away. "Look Inuyasha, Kisho is waiting for me, and I don't want him to think something happened."
Just hearing the man's name was enough to send Inuyasha swirling down into a red haze of jealousy unlike any he'd ever felt before, and he immediately stiffened, shrugging back into his jacket. "No, you wouldn't want Kisho to be worried…never mind the fact that you had me worried for so long when you didn't come back."
Kagome stiffened and her eyes flared. "Don't you dare presume to lecture me about being worried. You have no idea what you've put me through these past few years." He caught the scent of her tears, and valiantly ignored them, desperately clinging to his anger instead. "Every time you go off with her…every time you hear her name, see her face, remember something I can't even comprehend…" Unable to continue, Kagome just turned to walk back into the restaurant.
Feeling desperate, Inuyasha felt the words tumble out of his mouth before he even knew what he was saying or why. "Well if I cause you so much grief then you should stay with this Kisho! He won't be so insensitive, will he? He won't hurt you the way you say I do!"
"I don't know what he's like, Inuyasha," Kagome retorted, tears rolling freely down her cheeks now. "But right now I'm thinking you might be right!"
That stung. And when Inuyasha was hurting he struck back. "Damn right I am! Frankly I'd be better off with Kikyou since she doesn't care if I leave for days at a time. She lets me be independent, and doesn't keep me chained to her side like some dog!" Kagome stiffened, but he didn't notice, continuing, determined to inflict pain where she had hurt him. "In fact, she would have freed me from the prayer beads a long time ago, instead of keeping me bound because she was afraid I'd leave her!"
Kagome was deathly silent, unsure of what to say, the only sign of her inner tension being her clenched fists, her knuckles turning white. Inuyasha saw this, and for the first time wondered if perhaps he'd pushed her too far. He'd hoped to get a rise out of her…not for her to shut down and lock away from him completely.
Finally, when she looked up, the incredible pain in her eyes floored him. "You're right, Inuyasha," she whispered, her voice cold and steady. "She's never had to fear losing the man she loved, because she's had your heart since the moment she was resurrected. She's never had to feel the pain and confusion of wondering where she stands in your heart. Not like I do every day. But I won't feel that way any more. And I won't keep you chained to me any longer."
"Kagome?" Suddenly Inuyasha was very afraid, and he knew he'd gone too far. But she had hurt him…and he was so afraid of losing her. But now he realized he may have just driven her away for good because of his stupidity.
Stepping forward, refusing to meet his eyes because she didn't want him to see her breaking heart, Kagome reached up and grasped the prayer beads that had bound him to her for so long, and at her touch all she had to do was pull and the beads fell into the snow, sinking beneath the white slush and disappearing with soft thuds. He felt like he'd lost his connection with an angel and was now left alone and defenseless.
Inuyasha was as pale as a ghost as Kagome stepped back. "You're free, Inuyasha," she said softly. "You can go and do what you please." And without another word Kagome turned around and walked back into the restaurant, hugging her arms about her as she left Inuyasha standing alone in the snow, suddenly feeling very alone and afraid of the future for the first time since he'd been unsealed from a tree to find himself starting at a girl with fiery eyes and a temper to match.
"Kagome…what have I done?"
Damn him! Damn him for making her feel so helpless!
Kagome turned her face from side to side, watching as her reflection mimicked her in the bathroom mirror, displaying her red cheeks and eyes, clear indications that she had been crying. She tried to think of some way she could cover it all in two seconds or less since she'd kept Kisho waiting long enough, but each time she gained control and prepared to leave, the tears would come again, and she'd feel her heart break a little more.
What had she done?
Kagome repeated the cruel words she'd said, and the way she'd removed the prayer beads, and wondered if things would ever be the same between them again. How had it come to such an end? How had their relationship spiraled out of control so quickly? She could still vividly remember feeling joy and warmth as she watched Inuyasha admire the falling snow, and that had only been a little over a week ago.
Could their relationship…everything they had built over the past three years…could it all have ended that quickly? Was their affection so easily broken? So fragile?
Or, more to the point, was their relationship so much like that other fatefully tragic love affair? The one Kagome had continually tried to break free of?
"No!" Kagome snapped aloud, shoving away from the counter to stare at her reflection again, her red cheeks only highlighting the fact that her eyes were in a race to match their color…except that unlike vibrant red cheeks, red eyes only looked pathetic and desolate.
Kagome stared pointedly at her reflection for several moments in silence, as though she would unravel her own heart and see what truly lay beyond. She hadn't done that in such a long time. She'd just assumed she still loved Inuyasha, because sometimes it seemed like she always had; like she'd been waiting her entire life to fall down that well and meet him face to face. But did she still love him as much as she had on that day when she promised to be by his side forever? As much as when she risked all, including her safety, to rush into his arms and give him her first kiss?
New tears threatened to come as Kagome realized she loved him even more than all that, if it were even possible. She loved him so much she could hardly breath. He was her life. Her beating heart. When he was unhappy, she could hardly stand to live, and when he laughed she couldn't help but soar high above the clouds with him.
Her first instinct was to forget about Kisho entirely and run after her hanyou, to throw her arms around his neck and apologize until she could no longer speak. She hadn't meant it. She couldn't have meant any of it. She didn't want him gone. She didn't want to free him from his bonds to her, because she hoped the bonds they had could not be so easily broken as a string of beads.
But as she moved towards the door, his voice flared up in her mind and stilled her hand over the knob. She lets me be independent, and doesn't keep me chained to her side like some dog!
Feeling her heart tremble, Kagome realized she wasn't ready to run after him just yet. And so, instead, she glanced back in the mirror one last time, primped her hair slightly, and put on a bright smile that partially hid the dull ache in the back of her magnificent eyes.
"What happened?" Kisho asked the moment she appeared. "I was on the verge of coming to check and see if you were alright. Is everything okay?"
There was such care and concern in his voice. If only Inuyasha were so thoughtful…but then Kagome recalled the way he'd slipped her his jacket without even thinking when he sensed she was cold, and she realized he was already as thoughtful as he needed to be. "I'm sorry about that…there was just such a long line, and then this woman used some perfume that I obviously didn't like, because my eyes turned all red and watery, and I've been trying to get the red itchiness to go away for a while now." She indicated her eyes, and hoped that was explanation enough for her somewhat haggard appearance.
He gave her a look that said he was mulling over what she had said, but then Kisho just smiled and nodded his head as he offered her some of the dessert that had come while she was gone. Picking up her fork, Kagome sighed.
Inuyasha always knew when she was lying, and he would never let her get away with it, either. Reincarnation or not, Kisho was not, and would never be, her Inuyasha. She just wished her stubborn hanyou could make the same distinction between herself and Kikyou.
"So," she began brightly, "Where were we? You were telling me about your cousins, I think."
"Oh yeah…they arrived last week, and I've been seriously dreading what prank they'll try to pull on me this time." Kisho began in again on another story about his family, and Kagome listened intently, trying to focus on anything other then the small fingerprints on the glass that Inuyasha had left behind from when he'd been spying on her.
Do you like him better than me? Is he better for you than me? Do you want to stay with him?
There had been such a painful note of betrayal and hurt in his voice, and it was all Kagome could do to not immediately rush after him. When had she fallen so deeply in love with him, anyway? At what moment? She couldn't honestly remember…all the years with him had blurred together into one beautiful memory, forged through pain, sacrifice, and unconditional love.
And as Kagome glanced over at Kisho, a man who looked painfully like her hanyou, speaking to her about his life in excited tones, she knew he didn't stand a chance. She wasn't even sure if he was Inuyasha's reincarnation, but whether he was or not mattered little. He wasn't Inuyasha, and never would be.
He didn't have the worry lines, but to her that just made him seem innocent, whereas Inuyasha was worldly, experienced, and hardened by life. True, he laughed more, but that made it commonplace, whereas when her beloved hanyou even cracked a smile she knew he was genuinely happy, and when he rarely laughed she felt like bells were ringing throughout the world. But more than anything, Kisho's eyes were devoid of that pain and anguish…that raw need, which Inuyasha seemed to carry with him everywhere, secretly desperate for love and acceptance no matter how much he denied it to himself and others. He didn't have stories about cousins locking him outside without his pants…he didn't have the charm of a man with confidence, who had never known the pain of being rejected because of the blood in his veins…it had all made him hard at heart…and yet, that's what Kagome loved so much about him.
Despite all his flaws, Inuyasha was perfect. The world had beaten him down countless times; had stolen his mother and father away at a young age and given him an older half-brother who hated him as much as anyone else; he had been tormented by humans and hunted by demons and forced to learn to protect himself; he'd believed the only woman he'd loved had betrayed him…and yet, through it all, Inuyasha still had the ability to smile, and to desire to protect others. He still thoughtlessly gave Kagome his jacket or offered her his support; he still tried to cheer up Shippou in his own way when the kitsune felt useless because he was so small and weak in comparison to the others; he saved Kohaku from death simply so that he could keep a smile on Sango's face; he put up with Miroku's lecherous tendencies because they were friends…and all in the face of such a horrific past that no one would have blamed him for turning out just as evil, tainted, and bitter as Naraku.
"Inuyasha…" She hadn't even realized she'd spoken aloud until she realized Kisho had stopped speaking, and when she looked up at him she saw his eyes trained on her curiously.
"You said that name again," he commented, obviously trying to be casual, though there was a note of strain to his normally open and easy voice. In that moment he sounded more like Inuyasha than ever before…but then again, Kagome was also suddenly seeing her hanyou in everything, and also seeing everything that Kisho was not…and he was not Inuyasha.
"I did?" Still, she tried to play innocent, not wanting to cause undue pain for the man before her. He did truly seem like a nice person, and the last thing she needed to do was leave him scarred.
"Yeah," Kisho took another bite of his cheesecake without even seeming to think about it before giving her another look. "Who is he?"
"How do you know Inuyasha is a guy?"
Kisho chuckled, the sound empty. "I've seen that look before, Kagome, on other girls. When it's a guy, especially one they like, their eyes get all hazy."
"They do?" Kagome determined to bring a mirror so she could check the next time she thought about Inuyasha. "Well…he's nobody."
"Somehow I doubt that," Kisho pressed, clearly not willing to drop the subject. "How do you know him? Is he like some distant relation of yours? An old boyfriend? A guy you wished was a boyfriend?"
Try all the above, Kagome thought inwardly…except, maybe, for the distant relation part, although even that, with all the reincarnation 'stuff', probably wasn't too far from the truth. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you," she finally said aloud.
He laughed at that, the sound, as usual, beautiful and without care or worry. Kagome wished Inuyasha could laugh like that. "Try me; I'm usually more open to new ideas and stories than most."
"Yeah, well…" Kagome trailed off, not wanting to tell him that this story involved her using a well to time travel, and that the man of her heart was in fact, quite possibly, his reincarnation…someone who had lived and died over 500 years ago.
Kagome's hand instantly stilled, her fork poised over her own chocolate cake where she had been about to take another bite.
No…it couldn't be…not Inuyasha…
And yet, Kagome wasn't sure why she was surprised, or why she'd never thought of it before. To be Kikyou's reincarnation, the priestess of the past had first needed to die so her soul could be reincarnated, and it would make sense that something similar would be required for Inuyasha to have a reincarnation in her time as well. He would have to…
Her throat clenched, and Kagome could hardly swallow.
"Kagome? Are you alright?" Kisho was giving her a look of concern, but it was completely lost on Kagome, who was staring straight ahead, her hand shaking violently.
Compulsively she shot to her feet, snatching her long white jacket from behind her chair. "Please excuse me, Kisho…I'm sorry, but I have to go." And with that she was gone, not even giving him a chance to ask why, or to follow. She didn't care. She had to get home…get to the well…to Inuyasha.
Her shoes were not designed for moving quickly, the heels making it difficult to walk at all on the slippery cement of the sidewalk, and without even thinking about the health risks of her actions, Kagome bent over and slipped out of the high heels, leaving them behind to sink into the snow as she took off at a run in nothing but her nylons and short skirt to keep her legs warm. Her toes instantly went numb, but she didn't care.
She had to get to him. She had to assure herself that he was indeed alive; that by breaking their bonds with the beads she hadn't also severed their attachment through the well…their love that spanned over five centuries. She couldn't bear it if he was dead; frankly, she couldn't bear the concept of him dying before she was born, never having known her, which is what would have happened had she not fallen down that well.
But it was true. In modern Tokyo Inuyasha did not exist; no one even knew he had lived. No one believed in demons, or understood the atrocities committed against hanyous. They had never heard of Naraku, had never wept for the slaughter of the demon exterminator village, never witnessed the horror of a man slowly being devoured by a curse in his hand, or held a sobbing kitsune in their arms after he had brutally lost his father.
None of her friends were alive. They were all dead, according to history. She couldn't handle it.
Why had she never thought of it that way before?
She had to get back to them, to see them, to touch them, to assure herself that they were alright.
It had started to snow again in the Feudal Era, but Inuyasha was immune to the cold, too absorbed in the breaking of his own heart to care as his bare feet crunched over the ice-cold white flakes blanketing the earth for the second time that week. Never before had he felt so devastated; not even when he'd turned to see that the illusion of Kikyou had fired her arrows at him, seeking his life. Then he'd been able to hide behind anger…but now he didn't have such a luxury.
He'd lost Kagome, the only woman to ever care for him as a hanyou…and it was his fault entirely. He'd driven her away with his petty jealousy and stupid insecurity, his inability to forget the betrayal of his past tainting the love of his future.
Now she'd never come back to him.
He stopped in the middle of the forest and glanced down at his hands, which clutched the broken beads that had once bound her to him. After she'd disappeared back inside the restaurant he'd collected them all, intending to keep them with him always, even if he could never again hold Kagome's heart. Before that moment when she'd broken the rosary, he'd thought the subduing charm to be nothing more than a nuisance, but now he realized it was so much more than that…
The beads had bound him to her and her to him. They'd marked him as hers, in a strange way, similar to a demon marking a mate, and her refusal to take them off, he now realized, had been her reluctance to break their connection. She'd used them to save his life before, and he could never willingly be rid of them now…even if he never again wore them around his neck.
"Kagome, I…" He thought about the way he'd tried to tell her what was in his heart before, and how his tongue had tied itself up in a knot and he'd yet again been unable to say anything. Now, as he sighed and watched his breath swirl around him in a gentle puff of steam, he realized what a fool he'd been for not telling her when he'd first come to feel for her what he did now.
"I love you." His voice was loud against the stillness of the forest, disturbed only by the falling snow, the bare trees a far cry from the holly adorning all the streets and homes in Kagome's time, the warmth of Christmas lights and love a far 500 years away.
She'd always said she loved Christmas because it was a time of happiness and joy, but Inuyasha knew he could never see it that way. Not now. Now he would only ever remember December with disdain, as the month when a better copy of himself, a purebred human version, had walked into Kagome's life and stolen her away from him.
Gods, the pain he'd felt when he saw them together in that restaurant! Kagome, laughing at something a young stranger who was nearly his twin in human form had said while he charmed her and smiled and complimented her hair and eyes…things Inuyasha had never been able to do. Suddenly he understood why it had been so hard for Kagome to see him with Kikyou, and he marveled at the fact that she had stayed with him, by his side, for so long, considering how many times he had run off to be with Kikyou…to offer her his comfort and protection rather than Kagome, one time above all others sticking clear in his mind; that horrible time when he'd nearly left Kagome to die at Naraku's hands while pursuing a blind and false lead to Kikyou's still being alive when he'd believed her dead.
And yet, in the end, Kagome had forgiven him, and had even removed the poisonous miasma from Kikyou's failing body so that the undead miko was still free to roam the earth…all so that Inuyasha could be happy.
"Oh Kagome…" He mourned the loss of the one woman he now realized he'd truly wanted. She was the one who made him happy. Why hadn't he been able to see it before? All her sacrifices…her loving heart…her beautiful, pure, untainted soul…why couldn't he see it?
And now she was gone…
A familiar voice, beautiful as a lark, drifted towards him on a soft wind, his ears flicking in the direction of the well as the hanyou stopped walking and turned to see the source of the voice. At first he saw nothing, heard nothing else, and, not daring to hope, convinced himself that it had all been an illusion…a ridiculous hope that he was refusing to let go of.
"Kagome?" And there she was, running towards him still dressed in that skirt and blue sweater (and not wearing any shoes, which had him both puzzled and concerned). Her hair flew out behind her, her cheeks were red, and it looked like she'd been crying. "Kagome, what…?"
But she didn't even give him a chance to finish the question, launching herself into his arms and managing to knock him to the ground thanks to his utter shock. Thankfully his protective instincts kicked in, and he managed to keep her from hitting the ground, his own body taking the brunt of the impact while she simply landed on his chest, immediately burying her head in the crook of his shoulder as she fisted her hands in his red fire rat jacket.
"Oh Inuyasha…" Her voice cracked, and he could smell the new onslaught of tears. "I don't want you to die! I don't want you to ever die!"
"Die?" Now that he hadn't been expecting, and for the life of him all Inuyasha could manage was a puzzled frown, his brow furrowing in confusion. "Who said I was going to die?"
Kagome looked up at him, and the pain and love in her eyes, raw and unfiltered, sent a shiver down his spine. "I realized while I was with Kisho that if he is in fact your reincarnation, and I don't know for sure if he is, then that means you had to die so that someone in the future could have your soul," She explained in a rush, so fast he was barely able to understand what she was saying. "And I don't want you to die, Inuyasha! I don't want you to ever leave me! I don't care if Kisho's your reincarnation or not! He's not you!" She shook her head and buried herself in his shoulder again. "He's not you! And I'm so sorry for making you think anyone could replace you, because no one can! I'm so sorry for what I said! I didn't mean any of it! I mean, I meant it…some of it…but not the parts about not wanting to be with you, and about freeing you from your ties to me. I never want to break our bond, Inuyasha, never…please forgive me. I'm so sorry!"
The words were spewing out of her mouth so fast Inuyasha could hardly keep up, feeling like someone standing under a waterfall and attempting to feel each individual drop on his forehead, but still, he managed to catch the gist of her words, and slowly he felt the pain in his heart begin to recede as the meaning behind what she was saying began to sink in.
Kagome…wanted to stay with him. She didn't want to leave. She wasn't leaving him!
His chest puffed up slightly in victorious pride, and without meaning to, he felt a laugh begin to bubble up out of his chest so that, suddenly, his entire body was shaking with joyous laughter. The sound was beautiful, glorious even, and it caused Kagome to freeze where she was, stopping to bask in the wonderful reality that Inuyasha was happy. That's all she lived for, after all…to make him happy.
But then she began to wonder why he was laughing, and with that came the horror that he was laughing at her! "Inuyasha?" She looked up with questioning eyes. "Don't you dare laugh at me! I just poured out my heart, and all you can do is laugh at me?" But he just kept on laughing, and in spite of herself Kagome felt it spread to her own body, her lips curving up in a smile even though she tried to hide it. "You're such a jerk!" She tried lamely, whacking him across the shoulder, but in the end she too broke down into a fit of laughter, and together they rolled about in the snow, playing, laughing like children, and otherwise savoring each other's presence; two halves of a whole that were at last coming together.
Finally, after a few moments of silence, their eyes met, and Inuyasha's face immediately sobered as he crossed his legs and reached out a hand to touch Kagome's soft, smiling face as she sat across from him on her knees. "So…" He swallowed. "You don't want to leave me after all?"
Kagome blinked. "I never wanted to leave you, Inuyasha. I thought…I thought you said you wanted to be free of me. That you didn't want to be chained to me like a dog…that you needed freedom."
He winced as his words were thrown back in his face, and he wished he could take it all back. But, as was usual for him, such a wish came a few hours too late, and the words had been said. "I don't want to be free of you, Kagome, because I don't feel like I'm a prisoner or a dog that's stuck with you."
Kagome looked at him. "You don't?"
"No; frankly, whenever you're gone, well, I don't really know what to do with myself any more." He blushed. "Just ask Miroku and Sango what I do all day when you're in your time."
She knew already, because they told her often, but Kagome chose to feign ignorance and just smiled instead in reply. "I miss you all the time too, Inuyasha; you make me feel…safe." It was her turn to blush. "And it was kind of strange having someone besides you play my hero for a day."
The hanyou growled. "It won't happen again, I can promise you that."
Kagome rolled her eyes. "Well you really can't be with me all the time, Inuyasha, you have to recognize that."
He huffed. "I don't see why I can't."
"Because you have other obligations." He gave her a blank stare, and Kagome sighed and pointed at the jewel shards around her neck. "Remember the jewel, silly? The one you've been trying to complete for the past three years? The one I broke?"
"You didn't mean to break it," He replied without thinking, and Kagome felt herself pause momentarily. He'd never said something like that before.
"Well, despite that, we need to complete it, and you'll have to hunt for the jewel like you do sometimes when I'm not around."
"I never hunt for the jewel when you're not around," he retorted, not realizing how that sounded until after it had been spoken. "I mean…that's not to say I'm helpless without you. I'm quite capable of finding the jewel shards; I just don't like having to keep coming back for you."
"Of course." But Kagome couldn't keep the smile from her face. "Still, you have other people to protect too, Inuyasha, so you can't always be with me." This time there was no smile on her face, and they both knew who she was talking about.
It always came back to her in the end.
"Kagome," Inuyasha was unsure of how to begin. "I swore I would never leave you alone again after what Naraku did to you. That was my fault entirely, and I'll never forgive myself for it." He cringed to think of how weak she had been, valiantly fighting off a darkness that was overwhelming her, still having faith that her hanyou was coming for her even as Naraku taunted and said he was never coming back because he loved another.
"I forgive you, Inuyasha…"
"But I need more than that. When I found you nearly in his grasp, fighting for your life while I was off being a fool, I was ready to die in shame and anger with myself. I will never do that to you again."
Kagome sighed. "Kikyou will always need you, Inuyasha."
"Yes," he looked away, thinking carefully about what he was going to say next. "And I will always help her; I owe her that much after everything she's been through. But…" He paused, catching her eye before continuing, his thumb tracing the curve of her cheek. "I don't owe her any more than that, and I don't want to give her any more than that."
She hadn't been expecting that, and Kagome felt her eyes go wide with apprehension and confusion as she backed away from his touch, afraid to believe in what he was trying to say. "Inuyasha…what do you mean?" She spoke very slowly.
And then he did something wonderful: he smiled, and it was as though all the pain and hurt and rage had been momentarily lifted from his shoulders. "I want to be with you, Kagome, that's what I'm saying." Her breath caught in her throat at his words. "When I thought I'd lost you, I could hardly stand it. I wanted to die rather than live without you at my side." He reached into his pocket and pulled out the broken necklace. "I never want to feel that way again."
Kagome stared, shocked, at the beads in his hands, unsure of what to say. "Inuyasha…you kept the necklace?" She looked up and met his gaze. "Why?"
He blushed. "This necklace connects me to you, Kagome…and if that means putting up with the occasional sit command, I can deal with that." He winced inwardly at the thought, however.
Kagome gazed at the beads in his hands, knowing what he was asking her to do…knowing he was giving her permission to put it back on around his neck…and yet, she wished somehow there was another way. Their argument had caused her to stop and realize how humiliating it probably was for a man of his pride to be chained to her in such a way; being marked was one thing, or wearing an engagement ring or a silver watch that, when asked about, would allow the owner to speak of the one they loved…but a necklace that put him in her control?
She frowned. She couldn't put it back on now, not if it embarrassed him whenever she even accidentally said the 's' word.
But what could she do instead?
And then she smiled, knowing the answer as she reached into the large pocket of her white jacket, feeling the soft velvet box under her fingers, which she had grabbed without thinking before leaping down the well a few moments ago.
"Kagome?" Inuyasha was looking at her with a nervous frown. "Do you…not want to put the beads back on? Do you not want…?" He couldn't finish, and swallowed. Did she no longer want him connected to her in that way? Had he hurt her too much?
But then she looked up and laughed and showed him a black velvet box. "I have a better idea, Inuyasha," she began, offering him the gift and watching as he dumped the beads back into his pocket for later while he took her gift in his hands.
"What is it?" He asked, looking at the black material suspiciously, even going as far as to sniff it, which did nothing for his argument that he was nothing like a dog.
Kagome smiled. "This was supposed to be your Christmas present, but it seems like now is the right time to give it to you. Besides, I think the Christmas season can be about giving to others at any time…not just on the 25th of December."
"But what is it?" He pressed, and she laughed.
"You have to open the box to see."
Swallowing, Inuyasha felt the crease in the box and slowly lifted the lid, drawing in a sharp breath as he saw the gold heart pendant within. It was similar to the one she'd given him before, only slightly bigger, and as he flipped it over, he saw she'd had something engraved on the back: their initials. A lump formed in his throat as he remembered you could open the heart and see pictures, and when he did so he found a picture of himself with an arrogant smirk on the left, and Kagome's beautiful smile staring up at him from the right.
He didn't know what to say.
Kagome began to feel uncomfortable with his silence, wondering if perhaps he still thought such an idea ridiculous, so she ploughed ahead with her reasoning. "Look, I know you lost the last one, which is okay; I understand. I just thought that maybe, well, since you wore the last one so much you'd be willing to wear this one too?" He looked over at her and she blushed, looking down at her hands. "I figured, Inuyasha, that this could be my way of being connected to you…rather than the subduing charm…because that was given to you out of fear, whereas I give this to you out of love."
The word washed over him and Inuyasha felt instantly warm, having heard her tell others before that she loved him, and vaguely recalling her telling him that when he'd been trapped by Kaguya…but never had she said it so openly without any reason other than to simply say it.
"I don't expect you to feel the same way," She interrupted, clearly very nervous and uncomfortable. "I know you love someone else, Inuyasha, but I…I just can't keep it from you any more. I'm not someone who does the whole denial thing very well."
He held the heart pendant to his chest as he moved forward and took her in his arms, and he felt Kagome sigh into his embrace as he rubbed his cheek over the top of her head. "I don't love anyone else, Kagome," he whispered tightly, feeling like something was being set free within his soul as he finally admitted aloud what he'd know for a long time.
"You…don't? But I thought…"
"Not any more. Not for a long time." He pulled back slightly and met her eyes, praying for courage so he could say it at last. "I…I love you."
It came out so softly, so reverently and so shyly, Kagome felt her heart melt into a puddle of goo. Most men tried to make the moment they declared their love to be a lavishly romantic occasion with flowers and dinner and jewelry and…well…all Inuyasha had done was speak the truth, and since she knew how difficult that was for him, that was all she needed.
"And I love you," she replied without hesitation, seeing his insecurity and immediate vulnerability. She took the heart pendant from it's black case and unclasped the gold chain as she spoke. "I love you for your courage, and for your kindness." She bent over his shoulder and moved his hair out of the way to clasp the necklace at the nape of his neck. "And I love you for your big heart and for your need to always do the right thing despite the world around you." She leaned back and admired her work as the heart pendant rested at the v of his jacket. "But mostly, Inuyasha, I love you for being you…just as you are."
"Kagome…" How many times had she said such a sentiment? And how many times had he refused to believe her, scoffing at the concept of anyone caring for him as he was…a lowly half-breed?
"I don't expect you to suddenly believe me," she continued, her warm smile confidently in place. "I know all your life you've been told your blood made you tainted and unworthy of love or family or happiness. But I hope that, in time, you can start to see yourself as I see you." She leaned forward and, boldly, kissed his cheek. "Because I see you as perfect, just the way you are."
"Perfect?" He could hardly fathom the idea that he, Inuyasha, was perfect. And yet, in that moment, he was willing to believe almost anything Kagome was saying, his cheek burning where her lips had touched him.
Without thinking, he hesitantly stretched out his hand and cupped the back of her neck, drawing her closer, his ears flicking in her direction as her breathing quickened nervously. He'd been kissed before…twice…and yet, to Inuyasha, it was like he'd never kissed another (probably because he'd never been the one to initiate anything, he inwardly groaned).
When their lips met, it was with such sweetness and an innocence that nearly broke his heart, because he'd believed he'd never be touched by something so delicate ever again. He'd been forced to harden his heart, and his very soul, to the rest of the world simply to survive, his tears ceasing to flow when his mother died, his compassion slowly fading away so that he was left as nothing more than a harsh, cold shell of the man he could have been.
Kagome pulled away from his mouth slightly, her lips trembling, before she smiled and kissed him again, and Inuyasha felt himself losing all control over the barriers he'd so carefully erected.
After such a cruel childhood, he'd met Kikyou, and it had seemed like at last he'd found someone who could offer him a chance of a normal life. She had asked him to become human, and because he was afraid of her rejection, he had said yes, only later feeling the regret and the pain of giving up a part of who he was. But back then he'd thought that was the only way…
Kagome wrapped her arms around his neck, and in turn he tightened his hold about her waist, the empty velvet box dropping into the snow as he pulled her into his lap.
And then he'd met Kagome, a woman born 500 years apart from him, in a different time and place, and she had laughed with him, and cried for him, and protected him with all her strength…and slowly he had felt the stirring of something he'd never felt before: contentment. He'd begun to feel content with who he was; content with his hanyou blood; happy to be alive, so long as he could walk with such a brave and fierce young woman at his side.
She always came back to him. Always. Even that night, when he'd said such a cruel thing to her, she'd managed to come back, weeping for fear of losing him, apologizing when, in fact, he was the one who had said the worst and should be apologizing.
He didn't deserve her.
But as she finally pulled away from him and gave them both a chance to breath, her cheeks flushed and her lips swollen from the contact, Inuyasha knew he didn't care. Deserving or not, she was his…and he would never come so close to losing her again.
"Stay with me?" He finally managed to ask, his voice, to his embarrassment, sounding almost like the pathetic whimper of a puppy.
Kagome just opened her eyes slightly in surprise before understanding dawned, and she smiled even more brightly as she cupped his cheek in her hand. "You know I will, Inuyasha."
"Even with all the cruel things I say to you?"
"But…" He shook his head, forcing himself to remain locked in her gaze. "Why? Why me?"
She shrugged. "Who knows? I don't really have a good answer, Inuyasha. Love isn't something that's supposed to be easy to understand. But I do know that I love you, and that's all that matters to me." She leaned forward and kissed him chastely on the lips again, leaving him happy, content, and burning for more all at once.
Unfortunately, as he leaned forward to kiss her again, Inuyasha became painfully aware of the fact that they weren't alone as a child's laughter rang throughout the forest before a snowball connected with his face, chilling one of his delicate ears. Growling, Inuyasha shoved Kagome under him protectively, not even thinking about the fact that the snow was cold, and looked about for the culprit to find…Shippou.
"Damn it, Shippou! Did anyone ever tell you that you have the worst timing ever?" He glared, and was dismayed when all the kitsune did was laugh and point at his ear, which was still twitching to remove all the snow.
"But I have pretty good aim, I should say," Shippou replied. "Kagome taught me."
"Kagome?" Inuyasha looked down to see Kagome practically buried in a mound of snow, and immediately sobered as he pulled her out, only to find her roaring with laughter.
"He really nailed you with that one, Inuyasha," she managed between her gasping. "You looked so funny!"
"Keh," The hanyou grumbled and frowned, never being very fond of embarrassment. Glancing down at the snow around him and remembering what Kagome had done to Shippou before, he acquired a mischievous smirk as he scooped up a handful of snow and dumped it on her head, mashing it down into her hair.
She cried out in protest and tried to retaliate, but he simply gave her another handful of snow, her laughter ringing in his ears and throughout the silent forest and causing his own lips to turn at the corners, his amber eyes sparkling with happiness.
She was his, and had promised she would always be with him.
"I'll save you Kagome!" Yet again his pleasant thoughts were ruined as another snowball connected with his head, and he was forced to release the woman in his arms to face his newest attacker, finding Sango crouched down and scooping up another snowball in preparation.
"You should never let your guard down around the enemy," he admonished, trying to sound evil even though he was fighting back laughter as he aimed a snowball at the demon exterminator. But before he could throw, he felt yet another attack on his back, some of the ice running down his shirt and onto his warm back, and found Miroku with his deceptively innocent smile.
"I must ask you not to hurt Sango, Inuyasha," he reprimanded playfully, and Inuyasha just rolled his eyes.
"Why is everyone attacking me today?"
"Because you weren't here for the last snowball fight, so it's payback time!" This time it was Kagome who spoke, launching a large pile of snow in his direction, hitting him square in the face as he turned at the sound of her voice. His other three companions quickly followed her example, and before Inuyasha had an inkling of what was going on, he was covered in snow, feeling it in and out of his clothes, his ears, and his hair.
"Did it occur to you that I might actually be cold now?" He grumbled, but his friends just laughed some more, and he wished he hadn't bragged so much about his immune system and his ability to withstand severe weather. It was just a little damn cold, after all!
"Do you surrender then?" Kagome asked playfully, and he looked her square in the face as he replied.
His tone was so dark and masculine Kagome couldn't help the shiver that ran down her spine even as she saw the snowball come hurling towards her in the air. It caught her shoulder and immediately proceeded to soak through her sweater and down her neck, chilling her to the bone thanks to that combined with her shoeless feet. But she couldn't have cared even if someone had told her to. The man she loved admitted to loving her back and no girl could ask for anything more a week before Christmas.
Laughing, she watched as her hanyou proceeded to use his godlike speed to make quick work of their friends as well so that in the end everyone except Inuyasha was sitting in the snow laughing, their cheeks red and their noses numb from the cold. He turned and looked at her, and she saw another of his heart wrenching smiles as he walked over and offered her his hand. She moved to take it before getting an idea, and without giving him any warning she jammed snow down the back of his shirt.
"Hey!" He scrambled away from her, lost his balance, and landed in the snow a few feet away. She laughed, and he frowned some more. "I can't believe my woman…my own woman…just betrayed me like that. How could you, Kagome?" He tried to be serious, but it was a losing battle as he watched Kagome laugh some more and crawl towards him in the snow.
"Oh don't be so dramatic, Inuyasha," she scolded, finally reaching his side. A shiver passed through her body, this time from the cold, and it didn't escape his notice as he frowned.
"We should get you inside," he commented.
"No…please, not yet. This is so much fun! We didn't get to play last time."
"Kagome, the snow will be here tomorrow."
"It may not be."
"You should really get inside," He insisted.
She shook her head. "I like being out here with all of you, knowing my friends are safe." She shuddered as she recalled the reason for her desperation earlier. All dead…all gone long before she was ever born…it was a reality that was too desolate to think about for too long, and not for the first time Kagome felt a swelling of gratitude for the monster that had first pulled her down the well. If not for that creature sensing the jewel…
Sighing in exasperation, Inuyasha removed his jacket. "You're hopeless," he commented softly as he wrapped her snugly in his jacket.
"But what about you?"
"Keh, I'm fine," he replied, but didn't complain when Kagome wrapped her arms around his neck and cuddled into his chest, offering some of her warmth back.
A pleasant silence filled the forest once more as all five companions sat still, looking at one another with the love and respect that had been forged over the course of three very long and strenuous years.
Finally Shippou broke the silence. "So Inuyasha, does this mean you and Kagome are getting married now?"
"What?" Both Kagome and Inuyasha stiffened and looked at the kitsune in embarrassment, realizing how they were holding one another.
"Well, it just seems like since you both said you loved each other, you should get married, right?"
Kagome chuckled, but Inuyasha started to growl. "You were spying on us, runt?"
Shippou looked instantly nervous. "Well…it was for your own good. All three of us figured if you did something too stupid we'd step in and help."
Inuyasha glared at Miroku and Sango next. "You two were listening too?" Their silence told him everything. "Does the concept of privacy mean absolutely nothing to you?"
Miroku just shrugged. "Not when it comes to you and Kagome, my friend. We were beginning to think the two of you would never get a clue."
"Why you…" Inuyasha started to move, but felt Kagome stop him, and he turned to see her simply smiling up at him with her beautiful eyes and trusting smile.
"Who cares, Inuyasha?" She finally commented casually. "I was going to tell them when we got back to Kaede's hut anyway. This saved me the embarrassment of figuring out what to say. Besides," She whispered low enough that only he could hear her, "Now I don't have to feel embarrassed about wanting to kiss you."
His cheeks turned hot in embarrassment, and he looked down at a woman who was acting uncharacteristically forward. "Kagome…what's gotten into you?"
She shrugged. "Let's just say psychologists in my time would call it three years of pent-up sexual frustration." And then she kissed him, sweetly at first, and then passionately as he pulled her against him, refusing to let her go, both of them immediately forgetting their audience, including the eyes of an eleven year old boy.
Miroku turned and looked at Sango meaningfully. "Well, since they've figured it out, I think it's about time we do the same thing," he commented, moving towards the beautiful demon exterminator with his arms outstretched.
Panicking, Sango put her hands in front of her, placing them on his firm chest, holding him just out of her reach. "What do you think you're doing, Miroku?"
"Don't you want to kiss me, Sango?" His eyes held a trace of seduction, his voice suddenly very male, and she blushed.
"I…I…" But before she could say any more, his lips were on hers, sending a fire blazing through her body. At first she didn't resist, too caught up in the emotion of it all, but then, suddenly, she remembered herself, and her temper flared as she thought of the way he had just manipulated her feelings.
A loud smack caused Kagome and Inuyasha to break apart, and they looked over at a steaming Sango, Miroku beside her with the usual handprint on his cheek, his eyes sparkling and his mouth curved into a ridiculous smile of victory. Shippou stood beside them shaking his head.
"Miroku, this Christmas we finally got Inuyasha and Kagome together…I think it's asking too much to get you and Sango to admit your feelings too."
It was so strange hearing an eleven year old with such wise words that Kagome couldn't resist laughing as she buried her head in Inuyasha's shoulder, holding him and knowing she would never let him go again. He was her perfect Christmas gift; her beautifully imperfect hanyou that she would love until the day she died. And as she fingered the golden heart he now wore around his neck, marking him as hers forever more, Kagome knew that she couldn't have asked, or hoped, for more than that.